Unless the cycle is broken, poverty can be passed down from generation to generation. These are some of the common factors that can trap a family in this vicious cycle. But there’s good news. More than 1.8 million children in our Child Sponsorship Program are being supported and empowered to live a life free from poverty.

What factors keep a family trapped in poverty in the developing world?

1. Missing out on a quality education

The impact of education on a child’s life is incredible. UNICEF says it addresses inequality, particularly gender inequality, and is crucial in lifting individuals and entire communities out of poverty. Yet in the world’s least developed countries:

  • 1 in 5 primary school-aged children are out of school
  • Just over 50 per cent of children make it to Year Six
  • Only 36 per cent attend secondary school

Poverty and education go hand in hand. In many developing countries, education is free. School supplies like school books, uniforms, and the cost of transport, aren’t. These simple things can be too expensive for a family who is struggling to survive, and can prevent children from attending school. Many children need to leave school early to begin working to help contribute to their family’s income.

For children who do attend school, more than one-third graduate primary school without learning how to read and write. This can be due to overcrowded classrooms, a lack of school resources, too few teachers, and frequent absences due to sickness.

Dropping out of school to work can trap children into a cycle of low-paying jobs, while leaving school without the basic foundations can do the same.

2. Working hard but earning little

In developing countries, steady wage employment is the exception, not the norm. Demand for jobs with a reliable income far exceeds their availability. A lack of employment opportunities means many parents living in poverty turn to self-employment. But because there are few opportunities for them to earn enough to escape poverty, they are working hard but earning little. These families are known as “the working poor”, where at least one member is working but the household still lives on less than $2 per person per day.

3. Less access to food and safe water

Poverty can create a vicious cycle of food insecurity and poor health. When faced with a limited budget, food is often the first thing to be affected. Families may be forced to skip meals or choose food with higher calories or lower nutritional value. A lack of food or choosing food with poor nutrition can lead to malnutrition, which has far-reaching consequences for children.

Malnourished children have less energy and are less likely to go to school. They’re more vulnerable to sickness and more likely to struggle academically.

Without access to an improved, accessible water source, children and women can spend long hours walking to collect it, which cuts into time they could be learning at school or earning an income. Water scarcity and unsafe water puts families at risk of water-related disease, which also impacts school and work attendance and means they are more likely to incur medical expenses.

4. Increased vulnerability to sickness and disease

Poverty often forces people to live in homes and communities without decent shelter, clean water or adequate sanitation. Communities can be very crowded, which helps the spread of disease and makes children and families more vulnerable to falling sick.

5. Limited access to medical care

The majority of the health issues facing families living in poverty are preventable or treatable, yet they are often unable to access and pay for basic healthcare and medicines. Developing countries are also less capable of funding a public health system. Families in rural areas face a huge barrier in accessing healthcare.

6. More dependents

Parents living in poverty may have more dependents to care for, including children, elderly family members and extended relatives. There are complex and surprising reasons why families in poverty may have large families: it’s not as simple as not having access to contraception. These range from high child mortality rates, to limited access to education, to religion, to a need for extra labour. Learn more here.

7. Increased disaster risk in the developing world

Weather events like cyclones, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods are hazards but they become disastrous when you introduce poverty. Weak infrastructure, flimsy buildings, and rapid population growth increase the risk of disaster in the developing world. Natural disasters are significant barriers to overcoming poverty in countries and families that are already vulnerable.

How Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program Helps to Break the Poverty Cycle

1. Education

Every child in Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program has the opportunity to go to school and receive an education. Our child development workers create a tailored plan for each child and provide what is needed for them to continue their educational development. Staff often provide extra tutoring at Compassion child development centres.

2. Health

As part of our program, children receive an annual health checkup and treatment for any issues that arise. Compassion’s Medical fund also covers expenses in times of accidents, sickness or the need for surgery. It means children can receive the specific care and treatment they need to remain healthy. Importantly, children also learn about initiatives that improve quality of life and focus on preventative measures. This means children will learn to keep themselves healthy throughout their lives.

3. Nutrition and safe water

Children who are malnourished receive extra nutritional support, while all children receive supplemental food or meals to help keep them healthy. If children’s health is being significantly impacted by inadequate access to safe water in their community, Compassion child development centres may distribute water filters or install a borehole well.

4. Skills and training

Compassion staff understand each child’s specific education needs and how meeting those needs can help them to overcome poverty. This could include vocational training, university education, access to resources like computer labs and textbooks, and numeracy and literacy training. The opportunity to learn a skill or understand how to run a business is an important key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Income generating activities can help empower a young adult by providing business and finance training opportunities.

5. Mentoring and encouragement

Each child receives Christ-centered spiritual guidance and encouragement through their local church. Poverty can make a child feel worthless. The Child Sponsorship Program connects a child with the support of their local church and the encouragement of their sponsor, all of which can help them to dream big for the future.

6. Opportunity to hear the gospel

The chance to hear the life-transforming message of God’s love helps a family to overcome fear and feelings of hopelessness.

Meet Grace, a Compassion graduate released from poverty

Grace survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide thanks to her grandma’s quick thinking but lost her parents. After her parents were murdered, her grandma Verena took two-year-old Grace and her baby brother and hid in a swamp for days. They lost everything.

As Grace was growing up, her grandma struggled to make ends meet but put on a brave face for her grandkids. The day the local church offered to register Grace in the Child Sponsorship Program was a godsend. School fees and medical fees were covered; a huge burden off Verena’s shoulders.

The love and encouragement she received from her grandma and her sponsor made a huge difference in her life. “I don’t really know where I would be if my sponsors hadn’t decided to love me before meeting me in person and paid my school fees, medical care and living expenses,” says Grace.

Today, Grace is in her final year of medicine at university, offering love and care to people in life and death situations. Just like she once was.

Help release a child from poverty in Jesus’ name.

If you are interested in supporting children living in poverty all around the world, you can sponsor a child or give a one-time donation through Compassion Australia. When you give a donation to a Critical Need, your gift is not only tax deductible in Australia but also gives a child living in poverty life-saving support. Poverty leaves children without any safety net or protection, so when unforeseen circumstances arise, there is often little hope for recovery. You can give an online donation today and make a significant impact!

To claim a tax deduction at the end of the financial year, all you need to do is keep an eye on your email. Your receipt for your tax return will be emailed to you by our friendly team.

Words by Zoe Noakes